Mrs Oliver is attending a Hallowe’en party put on for the local youth and is discussing her books with one girl when another says:
“I saw a murder once.”
No one believes her and the festivities continue. It is only after the party when she is found drowned in the apple bobbing bucket that people realise she may have been speaking the truth.
Inevitably Mrs Oliver calls in Hercule Poirot and he is very happy to come and investigate when he remembers that the location of the crime, Woodleigh Common, is where his friend Superintendent Spence has retired to.
He finds a number of suspicious deaths have taken place in the community over the past few years and decides that if he can solve a historic case that will lead him to the present day killer.
I’ve seen some of the David Suchet adaptation so I knew who the murderer was and I may have read the book before, but if so remembered very little of the detail, especially not the one clever bit of what was going that completely passed me by. However there is only one clever bit, with a massive clue that most readers should spot, and then a crazy denouement based on one person’s completely idiotic behaviour.
As with a number of latter Christie’s this is one for completists only.
Recurring Character Development
Has a friend Solomon “Solly” Levy, with whom he frequently discusses the Canning Road Municipal Baths murder.
Occasionally almost regrets not having studied theology.
Drinks a beer and ginger beer shandy with Superintendent Spence.
Enjoys Mrs McKay’s sausages but not her strong tea.
Investigated the theft of some old family silver in Ireland five or six years ago.
Has little knowledge of plant names.
He places justice above mercy.
Makes use of Mr Goby’s foreign service, which is as competent as his English one.
Was in America last year at the time of Thanksgiving where she saw many pumpkins.
Ann tells her that she enjoyed “The Dying Goldfish”. Mrs Oliver doesn’t correct her, but maybe she was misremembering the title of “The Affair of the Second Goldfish”.
Was called selfish as a child by “a nursemaid, a nanny, a governess, her grandmother, two great-aunts, her mother and a few others”.
Met Judith and Miranda Butler on a Greek cruise.
Signs of the Times
Miss Whittaker says that the eleven-plus was abolished some time ago. This was, and in some areas still is, an exam taken by primary school leavers to determine which type of secondary school they should go to: originally grammar, secondary modern, or technical. It was started in 1944 and began to be phased out during the 1960s as many schools became comprehensive.
Dr Ferguson describes Spence as “(a) Good honest police officer of the old type. No graft. No violence. Not stupid either. Straight as a die.” This is an implicit recognition that whilst the GAD policeman was generally good and hard-working, the real thing could be very different.
Mrs Oliver isn’t sure if it is (Robert) Burns or Sir Walter Scott who wrote “there’s a chiel among you taking notes” but it is the former in “On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland” where it is rendered as “A chield’s amang you takin notes”.
Mrs Drake’s husband was knocked over and killed by a Grasshopper Mark 7. This two-seater sports car was one of many copies of the Lotus Seven, which is seen in the opening titles of “The Prisoner” TV series.
When Poirot agrees with an elderly gardener that he is not a local and says “I am a stranger with you as were my fathers before me” he is quoting from Psalm 39.
Mrs Goodbody’s grandmother was in service during the reign of William IV who she says had a “head like a pair”. William did have a big head and was nicknamed “Pineapple” or “Pineapple Head”.
Mrs Oliver is so used now to receiving telegrams by telephone, that she is surprised to receive a “real” paper one.
References to previous works
A number of references are made to “Mrs McGinty’s Dead” and what happened to some of the characters therein.
Miss Emlyn has heard about Poirot from a teacher at Meadowbank School, the setting for “Cat Among the Pigeons”.
Poirot thinks about “The Labours of Hercules”.
Inspector Timothy Raglan appears in this book. An Inspector Raglan appeared in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and “The Seven Dials Mystery”.
I assumed that either Joyce was for once telling the truth, despite being a habitual liar, or that she her lie had hit a nerve with someone. Despite Poirot continually harping on about the safety of the Butlers, I didn’t realise that she had borrowed Miranda’s story in the same way that she had appropriated her uncle’s tales of India.
However the obviousness of Mrs Drake dropping the vase of flowers and covering herself in water when we know that the killer must have got wet is very unsubtle.
And Miranda almost deserves to be murdered for running off with Michael Garfield when she had been told she is in danger. And it is completely unnecessary to throw in that he is her father – in a similar way to another later book where a family relationship is revealed at the end.